News / USA

Expert: In Some Countries, US Torn Between Values, Interests

A Libyan protester holds up a sign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during a demonstration in Tobruk, Libya, February 23, 2011
A Libyan protester holds up a sign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during a demonstration in Tobruk, Libya, February 23, 2011

Multimedia

Audio

The dilemma has been haunting the United States for decades. Do you prop up a regime that treats you favorably, even if that regime does not necessarily share your democratic principles? Or do you stand firm on your values, even if it means losing a partner or ally?

In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, the United States opted for the former approach. Some say it paid for it dearly. They claim that not only did the U.S. sacrifice its own principles, it also ended up losing its partners and allies to popular revolts. Ironically, the revolts were about greater freedom and democracy – values, many believe, the U.S. should have supported in these countries all along. Others say that in propping up or tolerating some autocratic rulers, the U.S. is merely choosing between a known and an unknown, between a relationship it can, to some extent, control and one over which it might have no grip.

VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke about this dilemma and the Obama administration’s handling of the recent turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East with Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of American foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Listen to our interview with Michael Mandelbaum:

Mandelbaum: The American government’s response has been confused and conflicted but that is, I think, appropriate because the situation in that part of the world is confusing and the United States does face, in some of these countries anyway, a conflict between its values and its interests.

Our American values would have a support movement against dictators everywhere since the United States stands for and has stood for, since the beginning and the founding of the republic, democracy. We founded our country in opposition to what we regarded as dictatorship.

Michael Mandelbaum
Michael Mandelbaum

On the other hand, in number of these countries the ruling autocrats carry out policies friendly and favorable to the United States, and there is legitimate fear that if they are swept from power, the new regime will not follow these pro-American and pro-Western policies and may be even more dictatorial than the old regime. So this is very difficult to reign for the American government and would be for any Administration, Republican or Democrat.

Yackee: We have so many areas of conflict right now. Is the Administration going to have to choose a reaction for a particular nation?

Mandelbaum: Well, obviously the Administration will tailor its response to the particulars of each individual country. But in many of these countries, as I say, the Administration and the country faces a conflict between our interests and our values.

But this is made slightly easier, the problem of the policy making is made slightly easier by the fact that the United States does not have a lot of leverage in a lot of these countries. In most of these countries, we do have some leverage in Egypt because of our aid package that goes mainly to the army.

But we really don’t have any leverage in Libya, unless we were to decide to use military force which, I think, is highly unlikely although I have heard calls in recent days for the international enforcement of no fly-zone over Tripoli so that Gahdafi cannot bomb his own citizens….

Yackee: Do you have any advice for the Administration?

Mandelbaum: My advice is to watch each event closely to keep foremost in their mind American interests, and I have two specific policy recommendations.

One of them -- and this is presented in the New York Times by their foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman -- is to do something about our dependence on oil by raising the price of gasoline. The real danger for the long term for the United States is that instability in the oil exporting part of the world -- and it is that the part of the world – will send the price of oil worldwide sky-high, plunging us and other countries back into deep recessions. And the way to avoid that is to reduce our dependence on oil, and the way to reduce our dependence is to impose higher gasoline tax. I make this proposal in my recent book “The Frugal Super Power: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era.”

And the second thing, I think the administration and we all should keep very much in mind is the proper definition of democracy. Democracy does not mean just elections. It also means the protection of liberty, the protection of political liberty, that is civil rights, the protection of economic liberty, that is private property and the protection of religious liberty, that is freedom of worship.

So although we can cheer on dissidents and protesters against dictatorship, we have to remember that what we want for these countries is not simply free elections, but also the kind of protection of liberty that requires institutions that, unfortunately, take a long time to build.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid